Sports, like many other industries, took a hit in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic back in March in April. Professional and college sports shut down at the onset of the pandemic, and while some leagues recovered, others did not.
The St. John’s University men’s basketball team’s 2020 campaign came to a stunning end last March during a Big East Tournament quarterfinal matchup against top-seeded Creighton.
The Red Storm was leading by three at halftime when both squads were sent off the Madison Square Garden court as officials canceled the remainder of the tourney due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is a situation that I have never experienced and I know our team has never experienced it,” Red Storm Coach Mike Anderson said. “Our guys are very disappointed. We feel like we’ve been playing some of our better basketball, but at the same time this is bigger than basketball with this coronavirus. This is a worldwide effect and that’s the game of life.”
The game did not result in a win or a loss and effectively ended the Storm’s season as the NCAA Tournament was also canceled due to the public health emergency. The squad finished the season at 17-15 with a disappointing showing at 5-13 in the Big East Conference and lost leading scorers LJ Figueroa and Mustapha Heron to transfer and graduation, respectively.
Meanwhile, the start of the baseball season was pushed back to July and the New York Mets didn’t give fans a whole lot to cheer about from home. The Mets struggled to a fourth-place finish in the National League East this season, despite a talented roster and high expectations.
The team was loaded on paper, but failed to perform on the field. They led MLB in batting average, finished second in on-base percentage, and were fourth in slugging percentage; by nearly any metric, they were an elite offense. However, they struggled to score runs equal to that production. The Mets were 13th in MLB in runs scored, ending the COVID-shortened season with a 26-34 record.
The off-season, however, has been a charmed one for Mets fans as Steve Cohen, a billionaire hedge fund manager from Great Neck, bought the team from Sterling Equities for $2.4 billion on Nov. 6.
The 64-year-old self-professed lifelong Mets fan immediately became the richest owner in baseball and expressed a deep desire not just to win in 2021, but to also turn the Amazins into a perennial championship contender.
“You want us to win the World Series, and so do I,” Cohen said. “New York fans have high expectations, and I want to exceed them. I want them to be great every year. I don’t just want to get into the playoffs. I want to win a championship.”
He even went on to set something close to a goal, saying that he would consider it “slightly disappointing” if the Mets didn’t win a World Series “within the next three to five years.”
The Mets’ new owner stressed the importance of bringing on an excellent baseball staff, under the tutelage of new team president Sandy Alderson, to rebuild the Mets’ scouting, analytical and player development programs and create organizational depth.
Cohen said the team will do what is necessary to win now and in the future, and will spend like “a major market team.” During the previous ownership, fans were critical that the Mets front office never spent enough to ensure success.
“We want to be excellent in all areas of this game,” he said. “That’s going to require resources, and I’m fully committed to making that happen. I’m not in this to be mediocre. I want something great, and I know the fans want something great. That’s my goal, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Cohen is now the richest owner in baseball, with a net worth of about $15 billion. While he committed to providing the Mets the resources they need to win, he stated that he would leave the baseball decisions to Alderson and the other professionals brought in to run the team.
That being said, he cautioned that the Mets would not “act like drunken sailors” in spending money on free agents.
“Part of building a sustainable franchise is that you want to make decisions about what works not just for the next 60 games, but also for the next four years,” Cohen said. “We’re in an unusual market today given COVID, where a lot of teams might be” offloading contracts because of financial concerns.
“I think Sandy and I want to take advantage of that,” Cohen added, “and I want to take advantage of that. There will be lots of opportunities and we’ll see what’s available.”
The Mets made their first dive into free agency signing Chicago White Sox catcher James McGann to a four-year deal with $40.6 million plus a signing bonus and remain connected to some of the top available players in free agency and on the trade market.